Uber Australia wants regulation without helping pay for it

Uber Australia's general manager David Rohrsheim claims that the company should not be subject to the same regulatory financial burden as the taxi industry, while calling for new regulation in which to operate legally.
Written by Leon Spencer, Contributor

Uber's Australia and New Zealand general manager David Rohrsheim has dismissed suggestions that the ride-sharing app provider should match the taxi industry's regulatory fees for new regulation that it wants the government to establish in order to accommodate its business model locally.

Rohrsheim told the ABC's Ellen Fanning that the San Francisco-based company has contributed to the local economy through the creation of thousands of jobs since it entered the Australian marketplace with its 2012 launch in Sydney.

"We're happy to pay all of the applicable taxes, and we do already," said Rohrsheim in an interview on the ABC's Radio National Breakfast program on Thursday. "What we're creating are jobs for Australia. We've created 6,000 jobs so far in Australia. We are the first of many part-time opportunities that Australia is going to depend on in the future."

The comments were made in response to suggestions that while Uber is calling for new legislation to be drawn up to allow it to operate legally in Australia, the company should be prepared to financially contribute to the state governments' infrastructure projects from which it benefits, such as road maintenance.

The regulatory framework of Australia's taxi industry, which has been fiercely lobbying against the self-described ride-sharing app company, sees players habitually pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for taxi plates, and thousands of dollars in government-issued taxi plate and licence fees. Like car registration fees, these funds are ostensibly funnelled back into public infrastructure spending.

However, Rohrsheim argued that Uber's current financial commitment in Australia -- where it continues to operate outside of existing legislation or regulation -- represents a reasonable contribution to the government's coffers.

He suggested that if Uber drivers -- some of whom only work as an Uber driver for a few hours each week -- were presented with the financial barriers of entry that the taxi industry currently bears, it would impact the ability for those part-time Uber drivers to work.

Rohrsheim also restated Uber's standing claim that it is not a taxi service, and, as such, should not have to operate under existing taxi regulation.

"These Uber partners out on the roads giving rides, they are not providing a taxi service, they are not picking up people on the street, they're not sitting in taxi ranks; they're sharing rides from A to B," he said.

While Rohrsheim does not agree that Uber should be subject to the same sorts of charges and fees to which the taxi industry is subject to under existing regulations, he defended the company's decision to reimburse drivers for the tens of thousands of dollars in fines they have been issued by state governments.

As of January, UberX drivers in Sydney had been issued with at least AU$28,500 worth of fines by the NSW Roads and Maritime Service, while as of May last year, more than AU$50,000 worth of fines had been issued to UberX drivers in Victoria.

"If any partner is charged by the state for providing ... transport to somebody else in their state, we support them 100 percent. We don't think anybody should be taken to court for providing a ride from A to B," he said. "This is not a matter for the courts, this is a policy question. Politicians need to step up and make a decision on how should ride sharing happen in our state."

The comments come after Victorian Opposition leader Matthew Guy was slammed by the state's taxi industry after he was filmed on Tuesday riding in an UberX car, with the service still effectively illegal in Victoria.

"I'm concerned that a senior member of parliament would associate himself with a dangerous and illegal service," said Victorian Taxi Association chief executive David Samuel.

Guy has called for Uber and other app-driven industries like Airbnb to be regulated.

"Outlawing things like Uber and Airbnb is not going to be possible, so the proper way forward is around regulation and engagement," Guy said on Tuesday.

While Uber continues to operate outside of regulation -- and effectively illegally -- in many of the hundreds of cities in 56 countries it operates in, Portland City Council in Oregon has approved a four-month experiment allowing ride-sharing companies such as Uber and rival Lyft to operate legally while deregulating the existing cab industry.

Uber launched a Portland service in December, but suspended operations after the city took legal action. A city task force then spent months developing recommendations for Uber to operate legally.

Though Uber has a global reputation for flouting government regulations, the company agreed to several conditions to operate in Portland. Uber drivers must have liability insurance, undergo background checks, obtain a business licence, and have their cars inspected. They won't be allowed to accept street-hailed fares or park in taxi lines.

Uber agreed to guarantee service to people with disabilities, something it hasn't done elsewhere, and won't be able to reject trip requests just because the length of the journey isn't lucrative.

Existing cab companies, meanwhile, will be allowed to hire as many drivers as they want and set fares without regulation.

Although the vote was a split decision, the council was largely united in its dislike for Uber.

"I appreciate that they've been behaving themselves a bit lately, but until they fire the guy who said he wanted to create a slush fund to blackmail journalists, I'm going to keep on saying I don't like Uber," Commissioner Steve Novick said.

"But," he added, "we're not voting on whether we like Uber. We're voting on whether to allow a particular business model to operate."

With AAP

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